Gangabal yatra

K D Maini
Narayan Naag which is popularly known as Nara Naag is located in the village Wangat of tehsil Kangan district Ganderbal.
This place is known for a sacred spring and ruins of temples of ancient times. The height of the place is about 6100 feet above the sea level while the temperature varies from -7 degree to 29 degree. This place remained the base camp of yatries for centuries together for the pilgrims who were going to Gangabal yatra. Nature blessed Narayan Naag is situated at the mouth of a glen which is surrounded by thick forest cover of Devdar,snowy peaks and meadows of Charri mountain in the north, Aldore in the east and Harmukh in the south western side.The water of Gangabal Lake and glaciers of Harmukh flows down and takes the shape of a stream near the Narayan Nag which is situated on the banks of this stream known as Kanknai (Kanakvahaini of ancient time) stream.
Narayan Naag area of Wangat has deep historic and religious background. In the ancient time, this village was known as Vasisthasrama believed to mark the residence of Rashi Vasistha. In the narrow gorge of Kankani stream there are famous monuments and temples close to Narayan Naag spring (about 40 feet in length and 60 feet in breadth).This place is two miles below the Buthser (Bhutesvara) and connected with Nandik stream near the Harmukh Glacier and believed to be the base camp of pilgrims  performing Yatra.
Lawrence wrote in his book’The Valley Of Kashmir’ that Kashmir is a country of pilgrimages. The most famous places of pilgrimages are the Amarnath Cave and Gangabal Lake. To Gangabal, Hindus resort after death of parents or relatives and fling  Knuckle bones into the deep water of lake which the funeral pyre has spared. There are ruined temples. They are in two groups at a distance of 150 meter from each other and respectively consist of six and eleven distinct buildings in the close proximity of sacred spring Nag Bal (Naag Naag or Narayan Naag). These monuments are situated on the bank of Kanknai stream which is about two miles from main Wangat village in hamlet known as Rajdain Bul. The ruins of very fine stone temples are enclosed by walls. It is believed that the stones for these temples were brought from Gangabal Lake area. The water of Narayan Naag spring was supplied to the temples and other buildings which are ruins now. The architecture is slightly advance than Paych and identical with temple built by  Kashmiri Kings who had at different periods raised them in the honor of Lord Shiva, Bhutesra. In one temple Shivlinga still exists.The site is enclosed with high mountains. Lawrence further wrote that from this place a foot path leads up to Gangabal Lake in the base of Koharmukh (17000 feet), a celebrated place of pilgrimage. A great festival is held annually in August or September which is attended by thousands of Hindus from all parts of Kashmir.
This place has remained the destination of intellectuals spiritual personalities and saints. This place was also a research centre on Shiva mythology and students of Hindu philosophy. As per noted writer Dr Agnisheker Kalhana, the author of Rajtarangni  after collecting the material and field research had come to Narayan Nag and stayed their for two years and compiled Rajtarangni, the first historical book of the country.
Ganga Bal lake is about 11 Km from Narayan Naag at the elevation 13500 feet above the sea level. As per Ernest Nave, who visited this place on 13th September 1898 wrote in his book ‘Beyond the Pir Panchal’ that it is three miles long lake near the north eastern Glacier. The south western side of the lake is most impressive and thrilling.The colour of  water of the lake is superb. It appears turquoise blue with broad masses of violet shadow lying across it. Some time like a mirror it reflects all the details of its mountain walls .Half a mile below is another lake called Nand Kul which is about 500 meter long. It is probable that Nara Naag temples were constructed at different times by returning pilgrims as votive offerings after successful accomplishment of hazardous ascent and Terth Yatra of Gangabal Lake, where the Hindus were immersing the bones of their relatives who died during the year.
Presently, the Wangat temples and Narayan Naag Spring have been taken over by the Archaeological Department and demarcated the site. This monument around Narayan Nag spring has been declared to be of National importance, under the ancient monument and Archaeological Sites Act of 1952. Besides the area up to 100 meters from the protected limit and further beyond  up to 200 meters near the adjoining to this monument has been declared prohibited and regulated areas respectively for the purpose of both mining operations and construction under the Archaeological rule of 1959.
Gangabal Yatra was very important for Kashmari Pandits in the past and continued even in odd circumstances. Even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had performed this Yatra in August 1945, when he came to Kashmir to participate in Sopore session of National Conference.
As per Dr Agnisheker, there are references of Gangabal lake and halting stations in ancient books of Kashmir and Kashmiri folk songs. The Yatra was performed regularly up to 1989. Due to unavoidable circumstances presently, the annual Yatra has been stopped but individually the devotees are still going to Gangabal for pilgrimage. The original Yatra was performed through   two routes.The pilgrims were going via Vasoon, and the journey was divided into a number of halting stations like Vasoon, Nuner, Nandikul, Dukhchoure and Sukhchour.The last station is Nandikul (about 300 meter below Gangabal). It is believed that by performing the Yatra of Gangabal and having a dip in the lake, one gets Salvation. It is also believed that Lord Shiva and Parvati Ji are living on the top of Harmukh which mostly remains covered with fog. Every year on the eve of Bhadoon Ashtami  pilgrims have a dip in the lake and offer Sharads to their  (dead relatives) and release the bones of their relatives in the water of the lake who died during the year.